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Martin comes through

Posted: Monday, June 07, 2004

DOVER, Del. Mark Martin attributed his victory to good fortune and he wasn't about to apologize.

''It was just a stroke of luck,'' Martin said after winning a bizarre race Sunday at Dover International Speedway. ''Everything worked out in our favor, but believe me, we were due.''

Martin managed to avoid one massive pileup, got a break when runaway leader Kasey Kahne crashed, and ended a long losing streak.

''Everything went our way today,'' said Martin, winless in 72 NASCAR races since 2002. ''The car got stronger and stronger.''

Still, after so many missed opportunities, Martin couldn't help but think another day would end badly and that he would be outrun over the final laps of the MBNA 400 by Tony Stewart.

''He had new tires and I didn't,'' Martin said. ''I thought we were going to get our heart broke again.''

Stewart, in contention only because he made a blunder that left him so far behind he missed the 19-car pileup, finished second.

Kahne, who somehow got through the melee and seemed well on his way to victory, skidded in oil left on the track by Casey Mears and crashed with 18 laps to go on The Monster Mile.

''It was a gift,'' Martin said. ''I was running right on the bottom when Kasey got into the oil and we didn't.

''Kasey was incredibly fast. It just was meant to be today for us.''

Four cars were involved in that crash, which resulted in a red flag that lasted 20 minutes the second stoppage of a race that lasted 4 hours, 47 minutes.

Kahne just passed teammate Jeremy Mayfield for the lead on the backstretch with 54 laps remaining when the cars of Michael Waltrip and Dave Blaney made contact entering the third turn on the high-banked concrete oval.

With the track virtually blocked, Kahne squeezed through. The rest of the contenders crashed. That caused the first red flag, also 20 minutes in duration.

''The track was totally blocked,'' Martin said. ''I just stopped. You can say I was smart. But I wasn't smart. I was just lucky.''

Mayfield, the polesitter, and Jimmie Johnson, running third, were among those who ran into the pileup. Mayfield slipped off the track and spun his wheels in the mud.

Johnson jumped out of his car as flames shot out of the rear.

''They're racing three wide three or four laps down like a bunch of idiots,'' said Johnson, who was in position to take the points lead.

Instead, Dale Earnhardt Jr. finished third and retained the top spot.

''It's just amazing to me that people who drive race cars for a living can do stupid things like that,'' said Greg Zipadelli, Stewart's crew chief. ''Then they get a check at the end of the day.''

His driver was among the fortunate. Stewart was far behind because he earlier missed the entrance to pit road.

''I just locked up the front wheels,'' he said, adding he wasn't sure it cost him a race he was dominating. ''Who knows with the accident that happened where we might have been.''

But Martin was the steadiest of all and wound up with an easy win his fourth at Dover while Stewart and Earnhardt raced for second in their Chevrolets.

Defending champion Ryan Newman also missed the entrance to pit road and slid into the tire barrier to bring out the caution that preceded the pileup on lap 346. Newman, trying for a record-tying third straight Dover victory, also was taken out in the big crash.

When the green flag came out with 46 laps to go, Kahne looked like a certain winner.

''The car was perfect,'' he said. ''We were pulling away.''

The victory was 34th of Martin's career.

His Ford led only the last 19 of 400 laps and beat Stewart who paced the field for 234 laps by 1.702 seconds. Earnhardt leads Johnson by 98 points after 13 of 36 races.

Earnhardt got back on the lead lap when Rusty Wallace cut a tire and hit the wall with 25 laps remaining.



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